Supporting 80,000 Black Women Entrepreneurs

Truist Foundation awarded Grameen America a $1.5 million grant to support the launch of its initiative to elevate Black women entrepreneurs.

Shanté is a mother of three who has always had a passion for jewelry-making. Having grown up in the foster care system, Shanté repeatedly found herself reckoning with the complex emotions surrounding her relationship with her biological mother. Over time, she realized her mother gave her up out of love and a desire to give her the best life possible. Since that realization, Shanté has used jewelry-making to pour that love into something tangible she could pass on to other people. 

Turning a passion into a business

After COVID-19 hit, she decided to turn her passion into a business she could operate from the safety and convenience of her home. Shanté launched her jewelry business last spring and found her niche creating custom waist beads, a traditional African accessory. She tailors each of her designs to her clients so they feel empowered and connected to the piece when they wear it. 

When Shanté’s venture was in its beginning stages, she searched for an organization to help her take her business to the next level and found Grameen America. Grameen America is a nonprofit community development financial institution (CDFI) that helps low-income women entrepreneurs build small businesses. 

Shanté joined Grameen America’s Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs program to advance her jewelry business. As part of the program, she received loan capital, which she’s using to bring her products to vendor events to connect with customers directly.

The organization’s model is unique. They provide small loans, or microloans, to their members, starting at no more than $2,000 per loan and increasing over time; women who progress through the program have the opportunity to access larger loan amounts. This model sets up Grameen America’s members for success.

A program with a transformative, long-term impact

With a mission to strengthen small businesses and support and empower minority and women entrepreneurs, Truist Foundation awarded Grameen America a $1.5 million grant to help launch its Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs initiative.

The Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs initiative offers loan capital, financial training and asset- and credit-building tools to Black women entrepreneurs. The program was established because the longstanding effects of systemic racism in the United States have resulted in a lack of access to affordable credit and capital for Black women entrepreneurs. The grant from Truist Foundation is laying the groundwork for the initiative, which includes a 10-year plan to provide $1.3 billion in loans to more than 80,000 Black women entrepreneurs by 2030.

“Truist Foundation is committed to partnering with nonprofit organizations that address barriers to economic mobility for those historically excluded,” said Lynette Bell, president of Truist Foundation. “We’re excited to support Grameen America in getting financial tools and resources into the hands of Black women entrepreneurs to help build better lives and communities.”

As part of the Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs program, participants are connected to resources and a supportive peer group they meet with weekly.

For Shanté, joining Grameen America’s Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs program connected her to resources and a supportive peer group that understood the importance of her business and self-growth.

“What I appreciate about Grameen America is being able to build a business with like-minded people,” said Shanté. “This is exactly what I need because I’m at a place in my life where I’m expanding a lot. I love it. I love being able to hop onto meetings and get all the encouragement I need.”

Shanté is using her loan capital to bring her products into the community by registering for intimate vending events where she can connect with her customers and understand the exact pieces they’re looking for. She hopes these events become a fixed part of her business model, as they have the potential to evolve alongside her product offerings.

Grameen America serves women who live below the federal poverty line, for whom the mainstream financial system is currently out of reach. These women often enter the program as caretakers and mothers, and work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Grameen America believes with capital, financial training and support, women entrepreneurs can build businesses and reach their entrepreneurship goals.  

“One of our program participants said that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she’s someone’s mom, wife, sister and caretaker,” said Alethia Mendez, division vice president of Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs at Grameen America. “When she’s at her weekly meeting with Grameen America, it’s a moment she gets just to herself. She said it’s a time when she gets to reflect on her business and her goals and feels supported and empowered to do so.” 

Currently, Grameen America has established the Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs initiative in its Newark, New Jersey; New York City, New York; and Memphis, Tennessee, locations. They will soon expand to a new location in Atlanta, Georgia. Long term, Grameen America aims to incorporate the Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs program into its 22 current locations across the United States.

Working together to remove systemic barriers to capital

Grameen America will soon launch Elevating Black Women Entrepreneurs in Atlanta, Georgia. Long term, Grameen aims to introduce the program into its 22 locations across the United States.

“Our proud partnership with Truist Foundation since 2017 has allowed us to innovate and expand our program to reach many more low-income women entrepreneurs in new cities," said Andrea Jung, president and CEO of Grameen America. “Thanks to the Foundation's support, we are creating a model uniquely tailored to advancing economic independence for Black women entrepreneurs. Through this important focus, we aim to remove systemic barriers by offering affordable loans and financial training to thousands of Black-owned small businesses who have historically lacked access to capital."

See more stories about the work Truist Foundation is doing.

About Grameen America

Founded by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, Grameen America is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit microfinance organization dedicated to helping women who live in poverty build small businesses to create better lives for their families. The organization offers microloans, training, and support to transform communities and fight poverty in the United States. Since opening in January 2008, Grameen America has invested over $2.26 billion in more than 146,700 low-income women entrepreneurs. Opening originally in Jackson Heights, Queens, Grameen America has expanded to 22 cities in Austin, TX, Boston, MA, Bridgeport, CT, Camden, NJ, Charlotte, NC, Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX, Fresno, CA, Hartford, CT, Houston, TX, Indianapolis, IN, Los Angeles, CA, Memphis, TN, Miami, FL, Newark, NJ, New York City, NY, Omaha, NE, Oakland, CA, San Antonio, TX, San Jose, CA, Trenton, NJ and Union City, NJ.